Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: White House “gate-crashers” say they’re suffering

They passed through layers of White House security to attend a lavish state dinner, got themselves photographed with the president and vice president and posted pix on Facebook. 
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It was supposed to be an experience to last a lifetime. But now, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple at the center of one of the most embarrassing White House security breaches of all time, say their lives have been destroyed by falsehood and gossip.
    
“Devastated. Shocked,” is how beautiful, blond, former NFL cheerleader Michaele recalls her reaction to the morning-after headlines in an interview with NBC’s Today show. And Tareq? “Very saddened,” he says.
    
According to the White House, the Salahis were not on the invitation list. But they insist they were invited and predict that e-mails now in the hands of the Secret Service will exonerate them in the end. 
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In the meantime, their lives are a one-syllable word for perdition.
    
Tareq: “Our lives have really been destroyed.” 
    
Michaele: “Everything we’ve worked for — for me, 44 years — destroyed.”
    
The U.S. media have made the Salahis out to be self-promoting social climbers who crashed the White House dinner while Michaele was auditioning for a new reality TV show called “The Real Housewives of Washington.” There have even been reports they tried to cash in on their exploits by demanding big bucks in exchange for media interviews.
    
A camera crew from the cable-TV channel, Bravo, did follow them to the edge of the White House grounds on the night of the dinner. But the bit about paid interviews is dead wrong, says Michaele: “At no time … have we ever even talked about doing that with anyone.”
    
Whether the Salahis are charged depends on a Secret Service probe to figure out just what happened. The Salahis tell NBC they hope to clear their name by sharing those e-mails as soon as the Secret Service says they can. When might that be? “We hope within the next several days,” Tareq says. 

Photo Credits: Reuters/Ho New (the Salahis and Obama); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (the Salahis)

The First Draft: White House “gate crashers” to tell their own story

She’s blond and beautiful. He’s debonair. Together, with irresistible charm and a voracious appetite for self-promotion, they penetrated White House security to attend this week’s state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and got close enough to kiss Vice President Joe Biden.

That’s the current media image of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, who could be the world’s most celebrated gate crashers since the British comedian who attended Prince William’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle in 2003 while dressed as Osama bin Laden in drag. OBAMA-DINNER/SECURITY
    
But is there more to the story?
    
The Salahis’ lawyer, Paul Gardner, suggests there is. “My clients were cleared, by the White House, to be there. More information is forthcoming,” he says in a statement published by the Washington Post.
    
The now-famous couple also plans to appear Monday on CNN’s Larry King Live.
    
Paul Wharton, a friend of the Salahis, tells ABC’s Good Morning America that the couple has had lots of contact lately with Indian officials and has spent a fair amount of time in India. Could that explain why they were at a dinner honoring the Indian PM? 
         
News accounts cast the Salahis as determined publicity seekers who posted their wedding on YouTube and boast an online photo gallery of themselves with loads of celebrities including Britain’s Prince Charles.
    
Michaele, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader, is being considered for cable TV channel Bravo‘s upcoming reality series, The Real Housewives of Washington. In fact, the Post reports that she spent seven hours at a posh salon, TV production crew in tow, getting ready for the big night.
    
The camera crew followed Michaele and Tareq to the White House but couldn’t get in. The Salahis did and wound up being snapped for photos with Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. USA-GERMANY/
    
The Secret Service, which is charged with protecting President Barack Obama and other high-level officials, says the Salahis were not invited to the dinner. The agency is conducting a comprehensive review to get to the bottom of one of the most embarrassing security breaches in the history of White House dinners.
    
It’s not clear what could happen to the Salahis if they really did crash the party. But another friend of the couple, Casey Margenau, doesn’t sound too worried. “Whatever they do, they’ll land on their feet,” he tells ABC. “Promotion and parties are part of their life.”

Photo credits: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Michaele and Tareq Salahi); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Biden)

Q: When is a “state visit” not a state visit?

A: When the visitor is not head of state.

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The flags are out in Washington for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is on what is widely billed as the first official state visit of the Obama administration.

That’s all fine for Singh, whose Congress party swept to victory in May elections, giving him a second term as powerful prime minister of the world’s most populous democracy.

The problem is, India has also a president — Pratibha Patil — who is the first woman to hold that largely ceremonial office and, technically, India’s head of state.

U.S. criticizes India on treatment of religious minorities

A U.S. commission is criticizing India for its treatment of religious minorities and has added it to a “watch list,” annoying the South Asian country.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (there are probably other commissions around town that people never knew existed) placed India on its “watch list” because of the “disturbing increase in communal violence against religious minorities” and the inadequate response by the Indian government to protect their rights.

Countries on the watch list require “close monitoring,” and India is now in the company of Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Venezuela.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s South Asian envoy and the Kashmir conundrum

Earlier this month, I wrote that the brief given to a South Asian envoy by President Barack Obama could prove to be the first test of the success of Indian diplomacy after the Mumbai attacks. At issue was whether the envoy would be asked to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether the brief would be extended to India, reflecting comments made by Obama during his election campaign that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would ease tensions across the region.

That question has been resolved - publicly at least -- with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. No mention of India or Kashmir.

India has long resisted overt outside interference in Kashmir and argued - with great vehemence since the Mumbai attacks - that tensions in South Asia were caused by Pakistan's support for, or tolerance of, Islamist militants rather than the Kashmir dispute.  For India, a public reference to Kashmir following Mumbai would amount to endorsing what it calls cross-border terrorism.

Some countries sad to say good-bye to Bush

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush may be deeply unpopular at home and reviled abroad but in some places people, apparently, are sorry to see him go.

The BBC reports  that Dubya has approval ratings of around 80 percent in Africa where his BUSH/administration increased aid funding and raised the alarm over the Darfur crisis. In fact, children born in the Sudanese region are routinely named George Bush, the BBC reports. And in Kosovo a main street was named after him to thank him for supporting Kosovo’s independence.

Israelis will miss Bush too. Bush has been a staunch supporter of Israel and some analysts believe Israel’s current offensive in Gaza was timed to coincide with the final days of his administration because the Jewish state knew it could count on his support. ”Israel is probably the only place on earth where Bush can still get a standing ovation,” Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution told the BBC.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Before last year's Mumbai attacks, Obama had suggested that the United States should help India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir as part of a regional strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. In this he was supported by a raft of U.S. analysts who argued that Pakistan would never fully turn against Islamist militants threatening the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan as long as it felt it might need them to counter burgeoning Indian influence in the region. Obama's suggestion raised hackles in India, and broke with a tradition established by the Bush administration which had tended to be -- publicly at least -- hands-off about the Kashmir dispute. 

The First Draft: Monday, Dec 1

With the images of death and destruction in Mumbai last week fresh in everyone’s minds, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is set on Monday to name his national security team
 
At a 10:40 EST (1540 GMT) news conference in Chicago, Obama is expected to name former rival Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state and nominate Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on in that role. In addition he is expected to name Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary, Eric Holder as attorney general and adviser Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations.
    
After a series of three straight news conferences last week focused on the ailing U.S. economy, Obama will switch gears today as he will likely face questions about India and Pakistan and his proposed policies toward the two nuclear-armed nations.     
    
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to India on Wednesday. She has been in contact with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in recent days to ease tensions between the states.

    
Indian investigators said the militants who attacked Mumbai underwent months of commando training in Pakistan, raising tensions between the neighboring nations as recriminations mounted in India. 

In an interview with the Financial Times , Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has appealed to India not to punish his country for the Mumbai attacks, saying militants have the power to precipitate a war in the region.
    
In economic news back home, stocks appeared set to fall after poor manufacturing figures from China and a raft of economic data expected in the U.S. this week.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Mumbai attack and Obama’s plans for Afghanistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if the challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama of stabilising Afghanistan was not difficult enough, it may have just got much, much harder after the Mumbai attacks soured relations between India and Pakistan -- undermining hopes of finding a regional solution to the Afghan war.

As discussed in an earlier post, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed a group outside India for the attacks which killed at least 121 people. The coordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was set up by Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

Pakistan has condemned the attacks and an Indian government spokesman said the head of the ISI had agreed to visit India to share information -- an extraordinary agreement given that the two countries have fought three wars and came to the brink of a fourth in 2001/2002. But it's hard to believe that would be enough to appease India after the brazen attack on its commercial capital exposed its vulnerability.

The First Draft: Friday, Nov 28

If Thanksgiving is over, it must be time for “Black Friday”. The big question this year is — will the traditional start to the holiday shopping season be a good one given the bleak economic picture? 
 
Retailers sure hope so, and they have slashed prices and offered incentives to lure shoppers to their store.
 
Terry Lundgren, chief executive of Macy’s said about 5,000 people had lined up outside the flagship Herald Square store which he called “encouraging” though he admitted in an interview on “Good Morning America” it’s been a “challenging period” for retailers like Macy’s.
 
“For retailers, this is the playoffs,” he said. “Starting now through the week after Christmas … We have much more aggressive pricing than we have in previous years.”
 
The state of the U.S. economy is on the minds of many — even al Qaeda.
 
Al Qaeda’s second-in-command published an Internet video saying the U.S. financial crisis was caused by Washington’s military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
In India, commandos took control of Mumbai’s Trident-Oberoi hotel but battles raged on with militants who were still holed up in another luxury hote, the Taj Mahal, and a Jewish center with about half a dozen foreign hostages.
 

After two days, the siege at two hotels and a Jewish center neared its end amid gunfire and more deaths. Police said so far at least 121 people have been killed.